Spatial variations in sedimentary N-transformation rates in the North Sea (German Bight)


In this study, we investigate the role of sedimentary N cycling in the southern North Sea. We present a budget of ammonification, nitrification and sedimentary NO−3 consumption and denitrification in contrasting sediment types of the German Bight (southern North Sea), including novel net ammonification rates. We incubated sediment cores from four representative locations in the German Bight (permeable, semi-permeable and impermeable sediments) with labeled nitrate and ammonium to calculate benthic fluxes of nitrate and ammonium and gross rates of ammonification and nitrification. Ammonium fluxes generally suggest oxic degradation of organic matter, but elevated fluxes at one sampling site point towards the importance of bioirrigation or short-term accumulation of organic matter. Sedimentary fluxes of dissolved inorganic nitrogen are an important source for primary producers in the water column, supporting ∼7 % to 59 % of the average annual primary production, depending on water depth. We find that ammonification and oxygen penetration depth are the main drivers of sedimentary nitrification, but this nitrification is closely linked to denitrification. One-third of freshly produced nitrate in impermeable sediment and two-thirds in permeable sediment were reduced to N2. The semi-permeable and permeable sediments are responsible for ∼68 % of the total benthic N2 production rates, which, based solely on our data, amounts to ∼1030 t N d−1 in the southern North Sea. Thus, we conclude that semi-permeable and permeable sediments are the main sinks of reactive N, counteracting eutrophication in the southern North Sea (German Bight).
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